Why is good form so important?
We all know that guy at the gym who's doing bicep curls with a weight that's 20 pounds too heavy.
He's huffing and puffing, throwing his back forward and backward, and doing anything he can to get that weight up. The most important thing in his mind is getting as much weight up as possible, and he's completely sacrificing his form to do it.
What is good form, and why is it so important to have? Even if my form isn't perfect, at least I'm still working out, right?
What does it mean to have good form?
In every exercise that we attempt, there is a right way and a wrong way to perform it. The right way generally involves keeping a neutral spine, or making sure that you don't round your back or curve it during the exercise, as well as making sure we are activating the right muscle groups (check out this website for more information on keeping a neutral spine). For example, if the guy we were just talking about were to correctly perform a bicep curl, he would stand up straight with a neutral spine and activate only his biceps to perform the motion. If he finds himself leaning over or bending back to try to get the next curl, he should probably choose a lighter weight.
When we use good form in performing any given exercise, we allow our body to activate both primary mover muscles, such as our biceps brachii (arms), quadriceps femoris (legs), and latissimus dorsi, or lats (back), as well as secondary movers, which are deep muscles used primarily for stabilization purposes. While we may be able to go a few days, months, or even years with bad form and notice some growth in our primary movers, over time our stabilizer muscles will start to deteriorate and become unbalanced due to bad form.
Why is bad form so bad?
When our stabilizer muscles are not working properly, become over or under active, or don't supply the kind of support that our body needs, we can sustain serious injuries. Movements that should be routine and easy when using the whole kinetic chain and the proper muscle groups will begin to place a huge burden on your primary movers and cause destabilization throughout your entire body. Imagine an amazing, beautiful bridge that has an incredibly strong walkway and a few really big strong pieces throughout, but the nuts and bolts as well as the smaller structural supports are rusty and weak. While the big powerful parts may keep it up and running in the short run, over time it will eventually break down.
Another serious concern to keep in mind when considering if it is worth the effort to maintain good form is your spine. Almost every physical position possible to take exerts pressure on your spine, and this pressure compounds every second of every day. Standing straight up with a neutral spine exerts almost 100 pounds of pressure; sitting straight up exerts almost 140 pounds of pressure; and sitting with a large slouch can exert almost 275 pounds of pressure on your spine! This pressure can lead to numerous problems, such as back pain and herniated discs.
Luckily our spine is built to withstand a certain amount of pressure, so most of us don't need to be concerned about our spine suddenly collapsing while sitting here reading this. But unnecessary added pressure over a period of months or years, especially from weight-bearing movements that we perform while exercising, can lead to numerous spinal and health problems if not addressed.
The solution is to study the proper form for whatever exercise you are performing, and to make sure that you never compromise your form to get those extra reps. It is important to push through a certain degree of discomfort while exercising, but not at the expense of form. Have someone watch you, film yourself, and take note of what muscles you feel activate while doing a given exercise. As you strive to have and maintain good form while exercising, you will experience all of the positive benefits of exercising while eliminating most of the risk of injury. Good luck, and good form!
- Nate Powell